Get out your flowered shirts and leis. Trader Vic’s, the eponymous retro 1950’s Polynesian-themed chain that used to be as ubiquitous as Cadillac fins, is back. But the new Scottsdale Trader Vic’s isn’t your mom and dad’s kitschy ’70s version of the island restaurant. The new-fangled Trader Vic’s is less Gilligan’s Island and more Four Season Bali. The chic eatery is damned serious about its vast array of Tiki-style ‘pupus’, wood-fired-oven-cooked surf and turf dishes, and some fabulous flamboyant desserts.
Originally started in 1932 as a glitzy chow house of Americanized adaptations of Polynesian food, Trader Vic’s over the years has played host to everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Paris Hilton. Suddenly the tiki culture flooded American design and food culture from the 50’s to the early 70’s. After an early death knell, and the destruction of nearly all original 25 Trader Vic’s restaurants, a reinvented Trader Vic’s is keeping the tiki torch burning, beguiling a new generation of retro-loving tiki temple worshippers with their extensive repertoire of tropical drinks and overindulgent food. Invigorated by flaming rum drinks and an appreciation for kitsch, this topical-tiki movement takes us back to a time when the Brat pack defined hip, Trader Vic was Ian Schrager, and pupus constituted au courant.
The Scottsdale venue is located in the recently refurbished retro-chic Valley Ho hotel. The interior is uncompromising South Pacific kitsch, with antique tribal masks and gauche tiki carvings, exotic fabrics, woven grass wall-coverings, and indigenous artifacts such as hand-hewn fish traps and Polynesian-inspired color palettes. The exotic Polynesian ambiance wraps itself around you as soon as you pass the Tiki statue outside and enter the door.
Trader Vic’s forte has to be the list of kooky cocktails many of which are lethal! Mai Tais are the beverage of choice, having been created here in the first place, and taste absolutely divine, but the real winner is Vic’s mojito, an unadorned but heavenly blend of the five sacred ingredients (white rum, sugar, lime, carbonated water, and mint leaves). It’s lip-smacking good and as deadly as a scorpion. It’s best to imbibe your drinks in the sublime open-air lounge. The first knocked us loopy. The second had us dancing around the Huna figures. If you’re not a rum fan, don’t worry, you’ll be absolutely spoiled for alternatives, thanks to the longest cocktail menu we’ve ever seen, helpfully split into small, weak, strong, large, and hot choices. If you want to impress someone, we’re reliably informed the four-person Scorpion bowl looks fabulous and has a deadly sting in its tail.
Based on some of the world’s best culinary techniques, Trader Vic’s dining options start with only the freshest ingredients from around the globe, reinterpreted by Executive Chef Justin Pfeilsticker with Chef Charles Wiley. Fish dishes are popular choices and deservingly so. We wolfed down the behemoth called Big Kahuna Pupu platter, a succulent combination of crispy calamari, melt-in-your-mouth crab cakes, crunchy chicken spring rolls (with just a yummy hint of oil), almond duck tidbits, and huge pieces of crab Rangoon. The Hawaiian butterfish (in a lovely truffled Yuza vinaigrette) is also worth ordering. If you’re looking for something even more substantial (although the fish dishes are munificently sized), try the monstrous- sized, apple wood bacon-wrapped jumbo sea scallops over a earthy portabella risotto and sautéed bok choy, or the filet mignon topped with a heaping lump of crab and served with mashed and sautéed asparagus from the wood-fired oven.
The Trader Vic’s menu is far from short with more dishes from the wood-fired oven including rack of lamb, chicken mandarin, maple leaf duck breast, and a fabulous Chinese barbecue flat iron steak. However, the in-house specialty remains the fish, with a number of dishes to choose from both for starter or mains, including salmon, sole, prawns, mahi mahi, and the piece de resistance: the coconut-battered Gulf prawns (we’ve never seen such large pieces except in a sci-fi film) with bell peppers, onion, and sugar snap peas all smothered in a chile pineapple glaze.
Aware of the recession, Trader Vic’s just initiated their 1950’s-priced happy hour, where you can dine on dollar tidbits and finger food alone, digging in on crispy catfish tacos, sweet Potato Fries, the Crab Rangoon with dip, and the Devil Fried Oysters. Sublime. They also have Wild Wahine Night every Thursday. Ladies enjoy half off drinks & appetizers in the lounge all night. Featuring live music from Kokomo 7pm-10pm along with Bacardi Rum & 42 Below Vodka drink specials for everyone.
The Scottsdale Trader Vic’s will transport you to a tropical escape in the desert with its tribal décor, rowdy bar, attentive staff, and unforgettable gastronomic journey of the finest spice infused dishes. We love it for its lethal “happy hour” Mai Tai cocktails, generous starter plates to share, and brilliant filet mignon and Peking duck pancakes. Enjoy your guilty pleasure.
6850 East Main Street
Scottsdale, AZ 85251-4346